Lindsay Baltzell’s Foreign Exchange Year in Germany

Lindsay Baltzell sends an update on her life in germany, which includes having to change host family's.

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Guest Writer: Lindsay Baltzell, Brianna Caldino, and Emily Loy

If you’d asked me a year ago where I’d be on February 24th, 2020, the day I’m writing this article, I would have never come up with the answer “sitting in the school library in Zeven, Germany, thousands of miles away from the school library at Shawnee Heights”. But after spending nearly seven months overseas in this beautiful country, I can proudly say that this is my reality. And as un-exciting as it sounds to be just sitting in a school library, it’s the journey that got me to this point that really stands out as special.

My year in Germany began in the /very/ small town of Hedersleben where I, along with the 49 other participants in the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program, lived and learned the life of a German. We spent many hours, a week, improving our German language skills and were exposed to the experiences we might have during our time abroad. We all faced hardships as we tried to keep up and quickly realized that 10 months away from what was comfortable and known to us was going to be both rewarding and challenging – and we were definitely right.

The hardest part of exchange is those first few weeks when everything is new and hard, nothing seems normal and you feel unprepared. I still remember the lovely welcome I received from my first host family in Bavaria – hugs from my host sisters and parents and a large poster that said (in German) “Heartfelt welcome, Lindsay”. Despite the persistent fatigue from processing a language I couldn’t manage well at the time, adjusting to all the changes to my environment, and an intense awareness of what exactly I’d gotten myself into. I continued to feel their heartfelt welcome throughout the five months I was with them. Having four sisters was just as foreign to me at the time as the country was, but I bonded so well with them and we had plenty of fun adventures together. Whether that be simple school lunch breaks in the city of Coburg with friends (which was the best during December, when Coburg’s famous Christmas market was open and full of yummy options) or weekend trips to other places. We visited castles and historic sites, went to Oktoberfest together, and shared the holidays with one another. I couldn’t have asked for a kinder family to be with and I wouldn’t trade our ‘girl’s night(s)’ or silly family moments for anything.

Since then, I’ve done a complete 180. Some logistical issues with my first host family meant that, after spending a week with the other participants for our mid-year seminar, I had to go to my new host family. Leaving wasn’t easy because I had already become accustomed to my new life and the people I shared it with. It was like suddenly I was starting over. However, this time I was much stronger. I felt prepared because I could speak German on my own by that point and I had already learned to navigate new places by myself. Those first few months and some support from my friends and family gave me all the confidence I needed to dive in head-first.

The result, you might be wondering? An amazing, totally contrasting opportunity. I now live in the tiny village of Klein Meckelsen, way up north in Lower Saxony. My siblings went from four sisters to two brothers and my views from white-painted houses to wild deer in the open wilderness surrounding us. I once again received a warm welcome into my current host family as they graciously offered to host me for the rest of my stay. Being up north and living on a farm has really opened my eyes to the uniqueness of Germany’s varying states. For example, the dialects and features of the language aren’t the same here (and I’m practically learning two types of German now). Every day I learn and experience something new – some things I would never be able to do had I not moved here. Looking at it now I’m eternally grateful to have gotten the chance to see Germany through two drastically different lenses. And that my new host family and friends in school are so kind. 

However, I must say that although things worked out for me in the end, adjusting to this lifestyle has taken a lot of trial and error. In the beginning, my German skills weren’t the best which was frustrating and made communicating tough. Keeping up with the lives of my friends back home amidst a rather large time difference creates trouble maintaining relationships. Not to mention I’ve made what feels like a million others that took time and effort to build. No day feels normal which means sometimes missing the comfort of home.  Learning in a language I’m not fluent in might be the hardest thing of all because I want to do well, show my abilities, but it’s impossible to perform as well as I could if I worked in English. There used to be days where I woke up thinking, “man, I’m gonna have to speak German all day today”. It was exhausting sometimes. But what’s crazy about experiences like these is that you get to overcome all these challenges. You learn things about yourself that other opportunities can’t teach you. Life skills that only living can make you ready for and that would otherwise come later in life. I have developed such a sense of pride in myself for going out of my comfort zone, learning to deal with the more trying moments, and going after my dreams of traveling the world. Everything I’ve done here up to this point has only reminded me why I wanted to do this in the first place – to immerse myself in how people that are different than me live, explore, and learn both a language and the morals I’ll carry within me the rest of my life. I already couldn’t imagine a life where I stay in one place forever, but now even more than before do I feel like I belong to a life of adventure. 

I now have 4 months left until my scheduled return date. My goals moving forward are to take in as much as I can before I leave, be with the people who have helped me grow, and see more incredible places in this country. I’m excited to come back, but after this is over, I cannot say that I’m ready to come home. Why? Because the world is my home, and the USA now shares its space in my heart with Germany.